Start something that matters
By Paula Polglase
President Jon Alger joins the residence life staff sporting TOMS shoes.
Their jaws dropped open, they leapt to their feet and started cheering wildly. All 284 student and professional staff members of James Madison University's Office of Residence Life had just been given purple and gold TOMS shoes. Moreover, Director of Residence Life Maggie Evans reminded the crowd "that means 284 children in need of shoes get a pair."
It was an exciting moment to cap off several months focusing on the theme "Start Something That Matters" based on the book by the same name written by Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS. Over the summer the resident advisors, hall directors and ORL professional staff all received and read the book to prepare for staff training and the upcoming year.
ORL based their training and theme for the year on the six concepts Mycoskie shares in "Start Something That Matters:" find your story, face your fears, be resourceful without resources, keep it simple, build trust and giving is good business. Sales of the book, TOMS sunglasses and shoes follow Mycoskie's mantra, "One for One" and provide a child in need with a new book, pair of glasses or shoes.
Evans sent the book to the student staff with a challenge: "Think about how his concepts translate to our work on campus. How can you, as an RA, program advisor, hall director, writing tutor, graduate assistant or student assistant make a difference in the lives of the students you serve? Is there a 'One for One' concept you might embrace? How do you plan to engage our residents in their community? What makes ORL special and how can we connect with each and every resident and neighbor?"
Evans was inspired by the TOMS story during a visit form Bethany Diehl Clark ('03) who leads TOMS Campus Programs. Clark, a former resident advisor and hall director for JMU, now leads the TOMS team that provides resources and inspiration for elementary-, middle-, high-school and college campuses to share the TOMS vision and values at their schools. "JMU is the first university where the entire Residence Life staff has purchased Campus Classics and themed their fall training after the 'Start Something That Matters' book," said Clark. "What an incredible way to make a difference on campus while helping others in need."
Evans said she wants the staff to use their imagination and creativity with the six concepts to start something that matters on their floor, in their hall, on their staff, at JMU, in the Harrisonburg community or in the world. "I want them to embrace it and take it where they're inspired to take it," she said.
"My RAs responded to this theme better than I could have hoped," said Natalie Raymond, Shorts Hall director. Raymond challenged her staff to think of what would be meaningful to a first-year student living in their hall. "What matters is getting the residents involved and building connections and relationships," said Raymond. "I've seen the positive response from the residents."
Senior Victoria Millefolie, Bell Hall director, said, "I really want to build a community that matters, that's my 'Start Something that Matters.' I wanted to be a HD to be more involved in the big picture of things, so really this TOMS theme works perfectly for this, my first year. I get to start something that matters in my own community and I hope it spreads to the whole JMU community."
The purple and gold TOMS, the exciting reveal, the screams and shouts of 'thank you' all made for a very exciting afternoon for the ORL staff. Moreover, there was a sense of excitement that each student will make an impact in fulfilling ORL's vision: all students will want to live on campus because there is no better place to learn and grow.
"Every year I hear our student staff say they want to work for ORL to help others, to give back," said Evans. "This year we're going to hold them to it. And these shoes are going to serve as a reminder."
Raymond said her staff understands what the shoes represent. "I think they really get it. It's paying it forward, it's giving back to people and it's making someone else's life a little bit easier every day."
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